The writing of the two Rabbis quoted below state that the Rabbis changed the start of the day from sunrise to sunset. Rabbi Drazin wrote that "we know for certain that the day began in the Temple at daybreak". Do we really know this for certain?

Chancellor Schorsch wrote that the Rabbis "reconfigured the day" and that it is much better the new way.

Is there evidence that the day started at sunrise in the olden days? If so, when was it changed to begin at sunset?

Did Rashbam interpret Genesis 1:5 as meaning days start at sunrise? If so, why did he rule to observe Shabbat etc. beginning at sunset?

Rabbi Israel Drazin wrote:

It is well known that Jews begin their day in the evening at sunset, not at midnight and not at daybreak, but this was not always so. Many scholars are convinced that the biblical Israelite day started at daybreak. It seems possible that the Judeans who were exiled to Babylon accepted the Babylonian practice of beginning the day with the prior evening.

We know for certain that the day began in the Temple at daybreak and it is assumed that the priests in the Temple retained the ancient practice for as long as the Temple existed. When the Bible states “there was evening and there was morning, one day” in Genesis 1:5, its meaning is literal: God completed what was stated earlier during the “daylight period” and this was followed by evening, and when morning came, the day ended – “one day.” The Hebrew is erev and boker. The first means “evening” and the second “morning” or “daybreak.” http://booksnthoughts.com/why-women-must-start-shabbat-before-men/

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary wrote:

Finally, the festival calendar clearly alludes to a division of time that regards the evening as part of the day just ended. ... Second, the talmudic innovation of reckoning a day from the eve before suggests a larger view of life. While we may never know what prompted the Rabbis to reconfigure the day, the existential benefit is indisputable. http://www.jtsa.edu/prebuilt/ParashahArchives/5758/bereshit.shtml

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    I don't what evidence there is for that proposition, but Lev 23:32 certainly seems to oppose it. It is well established in Halacha though that regarding the Temple the night follows the day (Temura 14a, Chullin 83a) but this just means that offerings on a certain day had the through the following night to be consumed/offered. (Note that even though one is permitted to offer them the following night, it is not considered "it's appropriate time" מצוה בשעתה to do so) There is no evidence that I know of that they had a different Temple calendar
    – Double AA
    Oct 22, 2014 at 21:15
  • The evidence of the different calendar is given by Rabbi Israel Drazin, who wrote about the change of the start of the year; and the calendar using Babylonian names for the months such as "Tammuz". booksnthoughts.com/why-women-must-start-shabbat-before-men
    – shmuley
    Oct 22, 2014 at 21:42
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    Are you asking or telling? I thought you wanted to know what his evidence was. I certainly don't see any evidence (or scholarship for that matter) in that essay.
    – Double AA
    Oct 22, 2014 at 21:48
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    King [Alexander] Jannai said to his wife [Salome Alexandra]: -- "Do not be afraid of the Pharisees or the non-Pharisees [i.e., Sadducees] but of th wildcats who mimic the Pharisees. For their deeds are like the deeds of Zimri [cf. Num 25:14]* but they seek the reward of Phineas [Num 25:11]."* --- Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b
    – user6591
    Oct 22, 2014 at 22:25
  • @DoubleAA I know that you know this, but just to clarify the above comment: the sacrifices that were already brought during the day can be burned on the following night, however, no sacrifice can be started at night Oct 22, 2014 at 22:34

1 Answer 1


In short: there isn't, or at least, not sufficient evidence.

The author of the article quoted in the question seems to misunderstand the sources he quotes. While it may be true that the Rashbam interpreted verse in question (Genesis 1:5) in a way that implies that night follows the day, he is in no way making a legal statement, and as he himself says several times (see especially his comment to Exodus 21:2) his interpretations aren't meant to have practical import or refer to a practice by any historical group.

In the Temple, it's true that 'the night follows the day', but that's a limited statement referring to sacrificial law: a sacrifice brought during the day can still be eaten or burned the following night. (Temura 14a) However, for most laws, such as when the Shabbos/Sabbath begins, the Mishna describes that it began the previous evening even in the time of the Temple. (See Mishna Sukka 5:5, for example)

Some scholars merely assume that, because the Bible doesn't explicitly say that the day follows the night, that the earlier Israelites began their days at daybreak. Perhaps some also believe that this is the implication of the Gospel of John 11:9-10:

"Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him."

However, John isn't saying that the 24-hour period begins in the day, he's just saying that the day itself, as in while it's light out, is 12 hours.

  • There are a few things here that I should probably ask about in the Meta.judaism.... like quoted the Gospel, arguing on the premise, or providing sources to a rejected opinion... Oct 22, 2014 at 23:15
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    Rejecting the premise of the question has always been considered a legitimate form of answer here.
    – Daniel
    Oct 22, 2014 at 23:31

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